Hong Kong animal charity the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) has expressed “concern” over a change in the city’s Covid-related regulation that introduces a penalty for pet owners who refuse to hand their animals over to the government.

From March 31, pet owners who refuse to turn in their animals to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department when handed quarantine or isolation orders face a fine of up to HK$10,000 and six months in prison. In a statement released on Friday, the charity said that the likelihood of pets transmitting virus to their host was “minimal.”

The SPCA called for clarification of the legal changes in the Cap 599A Prevention and Control of Disease Regulation. Photo: Wikicommons.

“Pets are always there for humans in difficult times, therefore we should not abandon our loyal partners,” the SPCA said, adding that the emotional connection between humans and animals should be considered when drafting any pet-related laws.

The SPCA advised pet owners to try and find friends or relatives who could take care of their pets, in case their primary carers were infected.

At the beginning of the city’s fifth wave of Covid-19, the government urged residents to surrender any hamsters purchased in local pet stores from December 22 to January 7, after the animals were suspected of bringing the Delta variant into the community following an outbreak at a pet store.

Handing in their hamsters, the government said, would “minimise the potential risks of Covid-19 transmission.”

A two-year-old hamster named “Ring” looks on from a cage in Hong Kong on January 19, 2022. Photo: Bertha Wang/HKFP.

According to a reply from Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan to the Legislative Council on April 6, as of the end of March, a total of 145 hamsters had been given up and sent to the AFCD for “follow-up.”

However, Chan did not specify the number of hamsters that had been killed during the fifth wave.

Regarding those who tried to stop others from handing their animals over, Chan said that the “AFCD publicly condemned such action.” She said that anyone who assisted in obstructing health officers from exercising their power was liable to a fine of $5,000 and imprisonment for two months.

Correction 13/4/2022: An earlier version of the story incorrectly spelled the charity’s acronym. We regret the error.

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Lea Mok

Lea Mok is a multimedia reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously contributed to StandNews, The Initium, MingPao and others. She holds a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.